Guide: Errors to avoid when building a new computer

Motherboard

When building a new PC it’s very common to make mistakes both in choosing the right components as well as in the setup itself. Though this happens for several reasons, it’s usually due to a lack of information and bad advice that, on occasion, can come even from those who mean no harm.

Surely you’ve all found yourselves in the classic situation where someone tells you "Look, I bought this laptop with a 4 GB graphics card," and it turns out that it only has 1 GB for DDR3 vram and takes the rest from the computer’s main RAM. But there are many other cases, such as people who set up their own huge power supply on devices that don’t need it or who try to overclock with a heatsink of CPU series.

In general, there are many myths and errors that could lead to an ill-advised purchase or to errors during setup, which could lead to bad performance, worse performance than expected, or in damages not covered by the warranty.

That said, given the importance of this topic, we wanted to make this multi-part guide to help you avoid some of the most common errors in assembling a PC, from choice to the assembly itself.

1, Being careless about the PC’s case: choosing any one regardless of what we’re going to ride.

Computer Case

This is key because the case is one of the pillars of the equipment and, like a pillar, it upholds three important elements:

  • The ability to use certain components. If the case isn’t the right size, you can’t use certain high-end or even mid-range graphics cards, which are usually large. We should therefore consider internal space and format so we don’t end up limiting ourselves.
  • Its ventilation capacity and airflow. This is also important since it can make all the difference in hot climates and seasons. If the case is small, has few fans, or is badly designed, we may have to force even stacking cables and components, which may result in an accumulation of air and increase the computer’s internal heat and slow down or even damage it.
  • Quality of materials and front connectors. Though this is a secondary concern, we should still keep it in mind given the convenience of USB connectors and jacks that are placed near the front of the computer.

2, Purchasing the cheapest motherboard.

graphic card

This is very common. Many users sink 50 dollars into a third-rate motherboard and then spend 200 dollars on a mid-range CPU with an unlocked multiplier that, apparently, they won’t be able to take advantage of because of the chipset.

This usually happens with Intel processors and we can easily illustrate this with what we’re going to say, which applies to the company’s most current chipsets–series 8 and 9, though we’ll also talk about the series 7.

With chipsets Z77, Z87, and Z97, we enjoy a lot of functions, including complete overclock support for K series CPU (unlocked multiplier) and support for multi-GPU configurations with good performance, thanks to the use of more PCI-E lines. The Z75 chipset also has overclock support.

If, on the other hand, we have a model with H87 or H97 chipsets, we’ll have to do without overclock support and we’ll have limited options for multi-GPU configurations, since it supports fewer PCI-E lines.

Finally, if we opt for a low-range product with H77 or H81 chipsets, our motherboard won’t offer multi-GPU support and will only have a basic level of performance in every way..

Luckily, with AMD, it’s less complicated, thanks to the AM3+ socket’s long life, and in this case we find four great options:

  • AMD 990FX: It’s the top of the line and has complete overclock and multi-GPU configurations support with up to 32 PCI-E lines.
  • AMD 990X: Though a step below the 990FX, it’s also considered high end. The major difference is that it has fewer PCI-E lines, which limits us to configurations with two GPUs at x8 each.
  • AMD 980G: This one’s a rarity in that only supports FX CPUs, not others like Athlon or Phenom II. It’s not very common and not recommended.
  • AMD 970: This is a low-range chipset that, despite everything, supports a maximum of two GPUs at x4 each.

As we can see, when choosing one or another AMD chipset, we shouldn’t limit ourselves from the beginning to the possibility of doing overclock on our CPU, but should also look at other aspects, like the possibility of augmenting space to add room for another graphics card.

Finally, another thing we should take into consideration is that a cheap motherboard offers inferior components and construction quality that can affect the computer’s life, so we should be careful.

3, Prioritizing speed and latencies over the amount of RAM

Ram

This error is also very common since we normally think that DDR3 at 2.133 MHz is a big difference when compared to DDR3 at 1.600 MHz, but in most cases this is not true.

This means that if our budget is somewhat tight, it is at this point where we can save some money without a problem, as we anticipated, it is not necessary to go for a DDR3 2.133 MHz CL9.

With everything, it is important to make a point, and that is, if our computer has integrated graphics without the dedicated memory, the speed of the memory will mark a great difference, because it will be used by the GPU, but this is a very concrete case, that will not happen if we have a dedicated GPU.

Finally, another point to consider is that if we can only mount 4GB or 8GB of RAM, it is a good idea to use a unique memory module, that way we facilitate a future expansion without appreciable sacrificing performance by not using a double channel configuration, as we can appreciate on the video.

Regarding the RAM, nowadays it’s unnecessary for any user to acquire more than 16GB in RAM.

Part II

Update: 11/02/2014

Hard disk

We continue with the second part of our guide errors to avoid when assembling a new PC, a series of specials that will be useful whether you plan to build a new PC in the short term as well medium to long term, since our advice are quite general and not limited to generations or specific brands, these are almost timeless.

Here we will continue reviewing the mistakes that are most often while choosing the components that will be part of our new PC, continuing from the point where we left in the first installment.

Lets get into the topic and as always we encourage you to leave your opinion or concerns in the comments.

4, Choice of the processor, the most expensive is not always the best and other things to consider.

CPU

There is a fairly detrimental tendency to think that the most expensive is the best, or that having "more of something" is better than having less.

This statement is true most of the time, but must be qualified. Yes, a eight-core Core i7-5960X is better than a Core i5-4670K, that’s for sure, but in the price-performance this is a poor choice and will not be used by 90% (maybe even more) of the current users.

The above means that we should avoid getting a Core i7 by inertia (bad advice) or what we get to believe after reading some terrible misinformations posted on the Internet. In general terms, going blindly for the extremes is a mistake.

Yes, you have to think a little and choose based on your real needs, the features available on the motherboard and also our budget, so we will ensure a good purchase in every way.

We offer separate examples so it will be easier to understand:

  • I have a motherboard that does not support overclocking: so is not worth it to buy a Intel K series processor, for example, you wont get any advantage from it.
  • I just want my computer to browse the web and office work: You should not buy a medium or high range processor, even if you heard the typical advice "it will last longer", because you won’t take advantage from it, not today, nor tomorrow.
  • I want a computer to play video games: If your board supports overclocking, a Core i5 K series is the best option, or in the case of AMD FX 8000 series.
  • I am doing demanding jobs, such as graphics rendering on Blender 3D: in these cases the Core i7 makes sense and it is a great option.

As we see the choice of processor can become far more complicated than the motherboard, and in the case of tight budgets it gets worse.

That said it is important to make clear another point, which is that if we have a really tight budget and want a computer to play video games, it is better sacrifice some CPU power, always keeping at least a four real cores processor, and invest a little more on the GPU. We illustrate this with an example:

  • We have 350 dollars to invest in CPU and graphics card. If you buy a Core i5 4670K you will spend about 230 dollars, which limits your ability to purchase nothing more than low-end graphics solutions, such as R7 Radeon 250X and GTX 750. With these cards you can not play beyond 1080p and most current games.
  • If on the other hand, if we get a Core i5-4430 CPU priced at 182 doolars, this leaves us 180 dollars to buy a midrange graphics card, such as a R9 270X, which guarantee us fluently in almost all games on high or ultra quality at 1080p.

In the prior examples I’ve kept the reference to Intel to not complicate comparisons. The same applies to AMD, but given the prices that processors from the Sunnyvale firm have, the best price-performance option for games is the FX-8320 processor, we should not go below this.

5, Heat Dissipation of the processor rarely taken into account.

cooler

This also depends on certain factors, among those the use that we will give the processor and whether or not we plan to overclock.

For a multimedia PC or office workstation using the included fan that typically comes with the processor and some economical thermal paste is more than enough, but for processors of medium or high range in which we plan to do overclocking, things change.

Overall if you’re not going to overclock, there is no need to buy a better quality heat sink than the included one, although personally the AMD solutions, especially from the FX-8320, I do recommend buying a better quality heat sink and invest a little in acceptable thermal paste, even though as I say we won’t do overclock.

On the other hand if you are going to overclock is almost mandatory to invest in a good cooler and good thermal paste, since otherwise we can compromise the integrity of the CPU and system stability.

Yes, I am aware that with the included heat sinks from Intel is possible to maintain reasonable levels of overclocking, but considering that the investment in a good fan and a good thermal paste doesn’t need to be exaggerated, it is not worth to take risks, beside we will be limited and we can not really get all the potential from our processor.

Another important thing to have present, is that the internal and environmental temperature will influence what the processor can withstand, that why we have to pay attention to this two factors and act accordingly.

After revising this point, I’m sure that many of us will have a better understanding of our reference to the importance that the case of the equipment has regarding ventilation and refrigeration, something we already talked about on the first part of this series of specials and has repercussions, obviously, on all the components on the interior.

Poor dissipation can cause an huge loss of performance, spontaneous restarts and deteriorate the processor or other components irreversibly, so we need to pay close attention especially if we’re doing and overclock.

Part III

Update: 11/04/2014

Build a computer

We finish with the third part of our guide of mistakes we should avoid when assembling a new computer, in which we’ll refer to other important components like storage units and graphics card.

These components are also an important and usual cause of errors and on them, play an important role in both ignorance as wrong advice, which can work from different points of view.

Thus, we can find classic phrases like “this graphics card has 4GB, it’s very good”, or “buy the most expensive, it’s the best”, while in regard to hard drives, it’s usual not paying attention to aspects as the rotation speed. Some people only care about hard drive capacity when deciding.

On these and other errors we’ll discuss in this article, whereas always we invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments.

6, Hard drive or SSD? Size, speed and interface

Recommend a SSD or a large hard drive blindly is a bad idea, but unfortunately, it is a very common practice. Lots of sellers and so-called experts usually do that, so it’s not unusual to see, for example, office computer with 1TB or even 2TB hard drives, which obviously have no sense in such systems.

When choosing a storage unit, the first we should think about is what we are going to do with the computer, and the budget we dispose, because it will determine our final decision.

If we are going to play or give an advanced/professional use and we have a limited budget, the best option is a hard drive with Sata III interface, with a rotation capacity of at least 7.200 RPM and a storage capacity of 1TB, since everything lower that those requirements will have a lower performance and won’t fulfill your expectations.

But if you have a higher budget and want to use the PC in the same way as in the previous paragraph, a SSD is the best option, but then it may be necessary choosing a dual configuration, ie, SSD+HDD. In that case, the hard drive will work as a secondary storage unit for storing large files, while the SSD is intended for the operating system and our main applications.

Finally, in the case of computers for office automation, web browsing and multimedia, a SSD is pointless. For this kind of equipment, a low consumption hard drive, for example WD Green with Sata III interface is a good option, because it offers a cool and quiet running, also meeting the needs of performance of this type of computer.

The hard drive capacity also depends on our needs, but in the case of office automation equipment, 500GB is enough. More than 500GB will be excessive and wasted almost in most cases.

7. Graphics card, some important points:

The first thing to be clear is that both AMD and NVIDIA offer high performance solutions, very complete and really good within each category or section.

Secondly, it’s also important to note that Intel has greatly improved their integrated CPUs, so that for some users it’s probably not necessary to buy another dedicated graphics card.

Yes, it’s not the first time I see an office PC with Core I5, and a graphics card like GT210, and in the beginning I was surprised, but everybody knows that stores want to sell and will do anything to achieve it. We have already talked about the processor, so we won’t back to that topic.

After these remarks we set out to summarize some important keys to avoid mistakes in choosing graphics card:

  • If you want a PC for gaming, you must focus on medium or high range. No being advised on the top model, because they offer a poor price-performance relation.
  • The video memory is not that important, and in case of use for gaming on demanding tasks, we must choose one with GDDR5 and minimum 128 bits bus.
  • It is important to purchase a graphic card according to the power of the power supply and case space, otherwise we will have problems or not directly enter into the computer.
  • For office or multimedia we won’t need a dedicated graphics card, due to the fact that the integrated on the processor is more than enough.

8, Sound card and other elements

Most motherboards integrated sound chips that amply meet the needs of much of users today, so purchasing an independent sound card won’t be really necessary.

It’s true that with an independent card we’ll enjoy a higher quality sound and some types of acceleration, but usually it doesn’t make a difference to justify the investment, in most cases.

I mean, obviously, to basic users. In the case of advanced users, it depends on the budget and our needs or expectation, but the basic models under $60 dollars are more than enough, since they incorporate the latest technologies.

For professional users or people dedicated sound things change, of course, but again we have to avoid going for the higher rang sound cards for thinking that the most expensive is the best.

Finally, not essential accessories, like DVD drives/burners or Blu-ray and the front usb readers, for example, somewhat optional are depend on the end user, but usually optical devices from brands like LG offer an excellent quality-cost relation.

9. Basic care when building the computer

We end up with a short list of advisable tips to keep in mind before we mount our computers.

  • Touch a metal plate to remove any static electricity of your body.
  • Ensure the motherboard carefully and check it before mount the other components. It may sound obvious, but it never hurts.
  • Check each connector that you’ll use with the power supply, as well as their correct placement.
  • Set well of safety interlocks of processor, graphics card and RAM.
  • Do not apply too much  thermal mastic on the processor, because you’ll get a negative effect. The best to be sure to not put much, is to draw an X on the zone and spread using a thin plastic, like an old credit card.
  • Do the whole process in a clean environment.
  • Before first start up, check again all the connections and the proper placement of all components.
  • Be careful with the placement of the so-called insertion components, they requires some strength, like graphics cards and RAM memories.

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